Collagen Protein vs. Whey – Their Differences Explored

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This article shares the research I did on the important amino acid differences between whey and collagen protein.

I looked into this comparison because of drinkable collagen powder’s big rise in popularity, and collagen’s benefits as demonstrated in recent medical studies.

On a side note, I’ve been drinking whey protein daily for over 35 years now.

And as a result of my poking around the available science & nutrition facts on collagen, I started drinking it daily too.


What’s next

Up ahead I’ll explain how whey and collagen protein’s amino acid profile differences matter to our bodies.

I’ll also compare them head-to-head in a number of areas by answering some of the most common questions people ask regarding collagen vs. whey.



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Science resources included

As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science & medical resources, clinical studies, and nutritional data used in this article.



Is collagen protein the same as whey?

Though both are proteins, collagen & whey have differences:

Their origin – Whey’s from cow’s milk and collagen powder is from the skin & bones of cattle, chicken, or fish.

Their amino acid profiles – Whey’s a complete protein and has high amounts of branched-chain amino acids.

Collagen is an incomplete protein but has high amounts of the amino acids glycine, hydroxyproline, & proline.


Bottom line: Thanks to these differences, whey & collagen proteins each provide their own set of nutritional benefits to us.


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Whey is a complete protein

Having all nine essential amino acids and having high amounts of three of them – the three BCAAs* leucine, isoleucine, & valine – makes whey a popular protein supplement for athletes and fitness-oriented people.

(*- Branched-Chain Amino Acids)

This is because complete proteins rich in BCAAs (like whey) have been proven in sports science to provide several important benefits:


Best protein source for muscles

  • A quickly digestible protein with high amounts of leucine (like whey) is considered the most effective protein for stimulating muscle growth (1)


Boosts strength & increases muscle 

  • Resistance exercise + BCAA-rich protein supplementation increases both strength & lean muscle (2)


Muscle recovery is faster, damage is less

  • BCAAs improve recovery time for muscles following strength training, and reduce muscle fiber damage too (3)

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Reduces muscle soreness

  • Pain from achy muscles after exercise is reduced when taking BCAAs (4)


Keeps muscle when dieting

  • Proteins high in leucine (like whey) can help preserve muscle mass even when on a low-calorie diet (5)


Reduces muscle loss from aging

  • Regular (that is, with each meal) consumption of high quality protein slows the process of sarcopenia, the age-related muscle loss that begins at 30 (6)

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Collagen? Not so much, but…

Since collagen protein lacks one of the nine essential amino acids (tryptophan) and has low amounts of a few others, it’s not a nutritionally complete protein. (7)

The implication here being that it is not to be considered one’s main protein source in your diet.

Meaning, any collagen you supplement with shouldn’t replace any of your regular protein choices, whether that be meat, eggs, yogurt, fish, poultry, dairy, beans, tofu, or whatever.


…Collagen is high in certain amino acids

Collagen brings its own set of benefits to us despite being an incomplete protein.

This is because collagen protein is high in three non-essential amino acids* (NEAAs) that aren’t well-known like BCAAs are:

  • glycine
  • proline
  • hydroxyproline

* – They’re called non-essential amino acids because our body can create them, so we don’t have to have them in our diet. (8) 

Nearly 60% of collagen protein is made up of these three NEAAs. (9)


Below I put together a list of collagen protein’s demonstrated benefits, along with links to related clinical research studies.

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Collagen supplement benefits

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* Helps with arthritis (10)

* Helps with exercise-related joint pain (11)

* Improves bone density, slows bone loss (12)

* Improves our skin’s elasticity (13)

* Reduces facial wrinkles (14)

* Helps with muscle & strength building (15)

* Helps you feel full when dieting (16)

* Helps with heart health (17)




Is collagen protein better than whey?

Whey & collagen are two different types of proteins, and each have their own distinct benefits for people who consume them in their diet.

It’s true, collagen protein can do things for us whey can’t, like improve the quality of our skin, nails, hair, bone density, & reduce joint pain from arthritic conditions. (18)

But it can’t provide a number of important things to us that whey does (or do it as well), like:

  • increase our lean muscle mass (19)
  • increase our strength (20)
  • boost our metabolism so we burn more calories (21)
  • increase fat loss (22)
  • supply tryptophan, essential for regulating anxiety & emotions, quality of sleep, & pain tolerance (23)


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Is Collagen a complete protein?


In order to be a complete protein, a food needs to have all nine of the essential amino acids and contain them in consistent amounts, per the Cleveland Clinic. (24)

Their list of complete protein foods:

  • Dairy (incl. whey)
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Whole sources of soy (tofu, edamame, etc.)

Hydrolyzed collagen powder falls short of the complete protein designation in a couple of ways.


No tryptophan

* It doesn’t have any tryptophan in it, so it’s short one EAA (essential amino acid), technically excluding collagen powder from the complete protein club. (25)


Very low in BCAAs

* Perhaps more importantly, collagen is also low in the three branched-chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, & valine.

These three essential amino acids are often considered the most important ones for:

    • building lean muscle
    • muscle recovery post-workout
    • reducing muscle soreness
    • reducing exercise fatigue
    • preventing muscle wasting in malnourished people (26)



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Does collagen protein help build muscle?

By itself, collagen protein powder is not the go-to protein choice for anyone serious about building their lean muscle mass.

When it comes to stimulating muscle growth, collagen has not shown that it is as effective as whey in sports science studies (27).


Researchers think that collagen’s very low amounts of the BCAA leucine (compared to whey) is the reason collagen powder isn’t as good of a muscle builder as whey is. 


However, collagen can help build muscle

There was a study where older people with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) combined strength training with collagen protein supplementation. (28)

After 12 weeks, the researchers found those taking the collagen had greater benefits than the participants who only did the resistance training, noting:

“collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training further improved body composition by increasing fat-free mass, muscle strength and the loss in fat mass.”


Bottom line:

Collagen isn’t the best protein supplement choice for you as far as building or maintaining your muscle goes.

However it has several great benefits of its own to pass along, which is why I added it to the ol’ diet regimen.

I combine it with whey in a post-workout smoothie, and have it in the mornings on off days too.


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Wrapping Up

Related collagen protein articles here on heydayDo

Orgain Collagen Peptides Review

Bulletproof Collagen Protein Review

Sports Research Collagen Peptides Review


I hope that my article on the comparisons between whey protein & collagen protein is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.

Let’s go.


January 2021


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About heydayDo

heydayDo author Greg Simon
Hi I’m Greg Simon. Fitness training & nutrition researching since 1982. Organic food & wine grower. Surfer. Congenital heart disease survivor (so far). Read more…
heydayDo is my “fitness after 50” website that’s about embracing the physically active lifestyle as we get older.
I write about the fitness and health research I’ve found concerning the quality of life benefits that exercise and good nutrition provide.
When I get curious about something, I’ll dig into whatever sports science & medical facts there are on the topic to learn what’s real & what’s only hype. I also post my experiences product-testing & evaluating home gym equipment & fitness supplements.
 It’s an information-sharing, personal opinion blog of mine.
So if you’re looking for medical or nutritional advice, please consult with your doctor or health professional for that, since heydayDo does not provide medical advice.